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11 Ways to avoid awkward conversations

Don Gabor is a professional speaker, communications trainer, 'small talk expert' and the author of seven books including his newest, Turn Small Talk into Big Deals: Using 4 Key Conversation Styles To Customize Your Networking Approach, B...

Uh, what did you say?

According to Don Gabor, 'small talk expert' and author of Speaking Your Mind in 101 Difficult Situations, 'Everyone faces awkward conversations or moments when you need to say the right thing.'

Awkward Conversation

To deal with any awkward situation Don first suggests to:

Take a deep breath and don't say anything -- yet.

Consider the other person's words and state of mind, what you want to happen next and what you possibly can say.

Ask yourself, 'What can I say to best achieve what I want while taking into consideration the impact my words and actions will have on the other person?'

Here are 11 awkward situations and what you can say to stay out of the conversational line of fire when you are on the job, at home or anywhere in between.

Awkward Situation #1

A colleague wants to debate political issues at work in the lunchroom.

Solution: Don't get into this 'lose-lose' conversation.' Simply say: 'I never discuss politics at work.'

Awkward Situation #2

A coworker pressures you to help her with her work.

Solution: Watch out for 'users' who look to others to pull their weight. Say, 'I don't mind helping you out every once in awhile but you've got to do your own work around here just like everyone else.'

Awkward Situation #3

Telemarketers or others asking you to donate to their cause.

Solution: With so many people in need these days, there is enormous pressure (and guilt) to help, but giving to all is impossible. Say: 'Sorry, I'd like to give to every worthy cause, but I can't so I've narrowed my list of charities to just a few and that's it.'

Awkward Situation #4

Someone asks why you aren't married or don't have children.

Solution: Amazing how some people can be so tactless, but don't make any excuses. Say: 'It just hasn't happened.'

Awkward Situation #5

Someone you don't know well asks you to recommend him or her to your customer or client.

Solution: Your credibility and livelihood are at risk if you recommend someone whose capabilities and character you can't vouch for firsthand. You can say. 'Sorry, I never recommend anyone unless I know his or her work.'

Awkward Situation #6

Your boss asks you at the last minute to lead a department meeting.

Solution: Don't panic or decline -- it's a great opportunity! Ask: 'When does the meeting start and finish? What is the purpose of the meeting? What do you want people to do or know when it's over?'

Awkward Situation #7

You need to return a defective product.

Solution: Go to the people in charge and don't take no for an answer. ' Say, 'May I speak to the manager, please. I have a problem with this [fill in the blank]… and I want to return it.'

Awkward Situation #8

A coworker asks you out on a date but you're not interested.

Solution: Be polite, friendly, but firm and direct. Say. 'I have a rule that I never date people with whom I work. So I'm sorry, the answer's no but it was nice of you to ask.'

Awkward Situation #9

You have a strong difference of opinion with someone.

Solution: With a few poorly chosen words, a small difference of opinion can quickly escalate into a full-blown argument. The best thing to say when you have a strong disagreement with someone is, 'We obviously have a different view of the situation. Let's agree to disagree.'

Awkward Situation #10

You unwittingly say something that has offended or upset someone.

Solution: Quickly apologize. Say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry to have said that! I don't know what I was thinking -- I was thoughtless. Please forgive me.'

Awkward Situation #11

The uncomfortable silence

Solution: A few brief moments of silence is a natural part of conversation, so don't freak out. To reignite the conversation say, 'I was just thinking about something you said earlier that I wanted to ask you about,' or '... remind me of something that you might find interesting."

Finally, Don points out, 'Getting your way in an awkward conversation isn't always the most important objective -- it's how both people feel at the end of the encounter because that's what they remember the most.'

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